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Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2012 Jan 6;417(1):635-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2011.12.022. Epub 2011 Dec 11.

The role of cholesterol in the association of endoplasmic reticulum membranes with mitochondria.

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Cellular Stress Signaling Unit, Integrative Neuroscience Branch, Intramural Research Program, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.


The unique endoplasmic reticulum (ER) subdomain termed the mitochondria-associated ER membrane (MAM) engages the physical connection between the ER and the mitochondrial outer membrane and plays a role in regulating IP(3) receptor-mediated Ca(2+) influx and the phospholipid transport between the two organelles. The MAM contains certain signaling and membrane-tethering proteins but also lipids including cholesterol. The biophysical role of lipids at the MAM, specifically in the physical interaction between the MAM of the ER and mitochondria, remains not totally clarified. Here we employed the in vitro membrane association assay to investigate the role of cholesterol in the association between MAMs and mitochondria. The purified MAMs and mitochondria were mixed in vitro in a test tube and then the physical association of the two subcellular organelles was quantified indirectly by measuring the presence of the MAM-specific protein sigma-1 receptors in the mitochondria fraction. Purified MAMs contained free cholesterol approximately 7 times higher than that in microsomes. We found that depletion of cholesterol in MAMs with methyl-β-cyclodextrin (MβC) significantly increases the association between MAMs and mitochondria, whereas MβC saturated with cholesterol does not change the association. (14)C-Serine pulse-labeling demonstrated that the treatment of living cells with MβC decreases the level of de novo synthesized (14)C-phosphatidylserine (PtSer) and concomitantly increases greatly the synthesis of (14)C-phosphatidylethanolamine (PtEt). Apparently, cholesterol depletion increased the PtSer transport from MAMs to mitochondria. Our findings suggest that cholesterol is an important substrate in regulating the association between MAMs of the ER and mitochondria.

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